KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An ethnic Malaysian Indian group has lost a legal bid to remove a word considered offensive from a government-published dictionary, a lawyer said on Friday, May 15.
The court verdict is another setback for the minority community, which has grown increasingly outspoken in its accusations of economic and social discrimination by the country’s ethnic Malay majority.
High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan on Thursday upheld a junior court official’s decision that the government’s Institute of Language and Literature was only fulfilling its duties by including the word “keeling” in the country’s most widely read Malay-language dictionary, said lawyer Priya Darshini Nair.
“Keling” is a derivation of the word “Kalinga,” a third-century empire on India’s eastern coast whose people were dark skinned. The word has long been used to refer to some members of the Indian Malaysian community, but it is often viewed as a derogatory way to allude to stereotypes of many Indians as untrustworthy or involved in crime.
An ethnic Indian Muslim community association filed a petition in 2004 demanding that the word be removed from the institute’s dictionary because it was regarded as an insult to Indians.
A court official dismissed the suit in 2006, agreeing with the institute’s contention that the word’s inclusion was not meant to stir racial animosity.
The association has not announced if it will appeal the case further.
Several locations in Malaysia have had the word in their names for many decades. Some historians also point out that the word first appeared in Malay texts centuries ago, and its use as a racial slur is relatively recent.
Indians form about 8 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people and are generally poorer than Malays and ethnic Chinese, the second largest minority. ♦